Saturday, October 30, 2010

Cinnamon Oatmeal Muffins

I love my whole wheat muffins recipes, but I also like the grainy flavor that oatmeal brings to baked goods. It has a unique, earthy flavor which reminds one of fields of grain. It also pairs very well with fruit and spices, so I wanted to create a fairly basic oatmeal muffin recipe from which I can experiment with variations in the future.

This is the second iteration of cinnamon oatmeal muffins that I worked with. The first version included a sugar-free crumble topping which added a nice dimension, but wasn't all that I had hoped that it would be and it added about 50 calories per muffin. I decided that the small enjoyment brought by the topping wasn't worth the caloric price and omitted it in this final recipe. However, I hope to work a bit more with the basic topping components and come up with something in a future recipe.

On the bright side, I have found that using oats to substitute for some of the whole wheat flour makes a lighter muffin with a pleasantly texture. You can leave out the cinnamon if you'd like to pair it with a fruit spread which doesn't go well with that particular spice.

Cinnamon Oatmeal Muffins (low-fat, sugar-free, whole grain):
1/2 cup rolled oats (not quick cooking)
1 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 medium egg
3/4 cup skim milk
1 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 tbsp. vinegar
1/4 tsp. salt
3/4 cup Splenda granular
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
    1. Spray the bottoms only of 6 muffin cups with cooking spray.
    2. Add the vinegar to the skim milk and allow to rest.
    3. Put the oats in a large bowl and add applesauce, egg, milk and vinegar, salt, Splenda, cinnamon, vanilla, and nutmeg. Stir until well mixed.
    4. Sprinkle the whole wheat flour onto the oat mixture and gently stir to just moisten. Allow to rest for about 10 minutes.
    5. Add the baking powder and stir just until well mixed. Don't overwork the flour or the muffins will be tough.
    6. Spoon or pour into the prepared tins and bake at 2000 degrees for 25-30 minutes.
    7. Allow to cool for 15 minutes and run a butter knife around the edges of the tin to loosen the muffins. Gently tap the bottom if they stick. 

    Saturday, October 23, 2010

    Orange Ginger Muffins

    I will admit that I was inspired by this recipe while perusing Better Homes and Gardens web site. They had a cake on offer which was orange and ginger. That cake was everything you'd expect, fat and sugar included. I didn't want to adapt the cake recipe, but the combination of ginger and orange sounded intriguing. It also reminded me of an episode of Fawlty Towers in which the main character, inn owner Basil Fawlty, is repeatedly asked for a "ginger and orange" drink by a guest and repeatedly fails to make it for him.

    In the first experimental batch, I made this with two teaspoons of ginger, but I think that one teaspoon is a better balance. The ginger totally overwhelmed the orange flavor. I also put very thin half slices of orange on top of the muffins, but I would not recommend doing it for future efforts. It may look a little nice, but the orange adds nothing and may taste a little bitter depending on the variety of orange you are using. Mine also dried out and got a bit darker than expected.

    The muffin itself had a good texture and rose very well. These are large muffins, and not quite as sweet as some my other offerings. I reduced the Splenda because I think that more weakly flavored muffins tend to be overwhelmed by sweetness if there is too much sweetener in them. I'm experimenting with pumpkin muffins and I have found that the pumpkin really faded into the background behind the sweetness so I need to tweak it some more.

    Ginger Orange Muffins (sugar-free, low-fat, whole wheat):
    juice and zest of 1/2 of a large orange (or one small one)
    1 cup unsweetened applesauce
    1/2 cup skim milk
    1 tbsp. rice vinegar
    3/4 cup Splenda granular
    1 tbsp. vegetable oil
    1 tsp. ginger
    1 egg
    1/4 tsp. salt
    1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
    1 tbsp. baking powder
    1. Add the vinegar to the milk, stir, and allow to rest for 5 minutes.
    2. Whisk the juice, zest, applesauce, milk mixture, Splenda, oil, ginger, egg, and salt  together until smoothly combined.
    3. Sprinkle the flour over the liquid mixture and gently stir just until the flour is moistened. Allow this to rest for 15 minutes.
    4. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. (190 degrees C.). Spray the bottoms of 6 muffin tins with cooking spray.
    5. Sprinkle the baking powder over the mixture and stir until just mixed.
    6. Spoon the batter into the prepared cups. They will be quite full.
    7. Bake for 35-40 minutes until a skewer inserted into the center comes out with moist crumbs. Do not overbake as it will dry out the muffins.
    8. Allow to cool in the tins for at least 15 minutes. Run a butter knife around the edges to loosen, pat gently if they stick to the bottom. Place on a rack for cooling.
    Nutrition information courtesy of the SparkRecipes calculator:

    Saturday, October 16, 2010

    Kabocha Squash Soup

    Kabocha is Japanese pumpkin, but it really is more like an exotic version of squash than a variation on the familiar orange Halloween vegetable that we use for pies and jack-o-lanterns. It is smaller, sweeter, and has a different flavor. The skin is green and edible, but you may wish to remove it for this soup because it doesn't smoothly puree and affects the color. With the peel, the soup is greenish. Without, it is a deeply golden orange. Mainly, keeping the skin or not is an aesthetic choice.

    I have little access to the types of squash varieties that people back home in America do, so I work with kabocha by default rather than as an act of  defiance against more accessible varieties. For me, this is the "accessible" one. It's delicious, so it's no hardship, but I realize that a recipe like this may be of little value to those who don't have access to Asian vegetables. I've read that kabocha is similar to buttercup squash, so this recipe can be made with that as a substitute.

    I had this soup as a side dish with a protein-rich course and it is very filling and extremely tasty. There is a lot of substance in it and it should keep you full for hours. In fact, it filled me with warmth and satiety for about 4 hours! It's a lovely soup for cold weather.

    In regards to recipe alterations, I used chicken bouillon granules, and they were salty enough so whether or not you add salt depends on your consomme or bouillon's flavor and your personal tastes.

    Kabocha Squash Soup (low-fat):
    1 medium onion, diced
    2 garlic cloves, peeled and quartered
    400 grams/14 oz. (seeded weight) kabocha squash or buttercup squash
    2 cups water
    1 cup skim milk
    2 chicken consomme cubes or bouillon
    1/4-1/2 tsp. ground black pepper to taste
    salt to taste (optional)
    scant amount of vegetable oil (1 tsp.)
    1. Wrap the kabocha squash in plastic wrap and cook at high heat in microwave for 2 minutes.
    2. Remove the squash from the oven. Optional step: Use a vegetable peeler to peel off the outer layer of green skin. This will make a more uniform-looking soup without tiny bits of peel in it, but is not necessary.
    3. Scoop the seeds out of the squash and cut into pieces about 1"/2.5 cm. in size. If the squash is still too hard to cut, cook it for a few more minutes. Be very careful handling the knife as this is a firm vegetable and you may need to use a little force to cut it.
    4. Heat a medium-sized pot with a well-fitting lid over medium heat. Add as little oil as necessary to just coat the bottom of the pan (or spray with cooking spray).
    5. Add the onions and garlic to the pan and cook until the onions are softened and slightly transparent. If you're using cooking spray, you will need to watch them more closely and possibly lower the temperature. Stir every 5 minutes or so. Reduce the heat if they stick or start to burn.
    6. Add the water, milk, squash, pepper and soup granules or cubes. Cover and cook until the squash is very tender, stirring occasionally. It should take about a half hour at most after the soup starts to simmer.
    7. Puree the soup with an immersion blender until smooth. Salt to taste if necessary.
    I usually use Sparkrecipe's calculator to tally up the nutrition information for my recipes and present it as is, but in the case of this soup, I don't trust the information that I received. The main problem is that multiple sources which provide nutrition data about kabocha do not appear to be correct. Most of them say that a 3/4 cup serving or 85 grams (3 oz.) provides 30 calories, but this does not match the information I have read about kabocha calorie counts on packages of plain, frozen squash in Japan. The data I see says that the calorie value is 70 calories per 85 grams (3 oz.).

    I'm providing the SparkRecipes calculation, with my adjusted calorie count in red next to SparkRecipes value in black. I'm not asserting that I'm definitively correct (though I believe I am), so I'm offering the option of accepting the SparkRecipes calorie data instead of mine.

    Nutrition calculations courtesy of the Sparkrecipes calculator:

    Saturday, October 9, 2010

    Blueberry Muffins

    Recently, I was thinking about zucchini bread. In fall in rural Pennsylvania, where I grew up, we were inundated with zucchini at this time of year and my grandmother used to make delicious zucchini bread. I decided that I'd try to modify that recipe to make it sugar-free and low-fat, but I found that it was rather tricky to get the correct moisture balance. My zucchini bread variation came out dense, wet, and with an unappealing texture. Any time that I work with a new fruit or vegetable, the ratios have to be carefully altered to avoid this soggy outcome.

    For these blueberry muffins, and my earlier raspberry orange muffins, I had to work with a stiffer batter whereas I had to work with a wetter one for the chocolate muffins. If I overload a batter which includes added fruit or vegetables (or a puree of either), it's important to reduce the milk and applesauce to stop it from getting too mushy. The chemistry of baking seems simple until you start to tweak things, and then it can easily fall apart.

    Fortunately, these blueberry muffins were an easy variation on the raspberry orange recipe and came out with a great texture and balanced moisture despite being liberally speckled with blueberries. I used unsweetened frozen blueberries from Radar Farms (a brand that Costco carries). You can use fresh ones, but that may affect the texture because frozen ones tend to have a fair amount of frozen juice around them. The baking time will definitely be affected if you use fresh because the frozen berries lower the overall temperature of the batter. If you use frozen berries, I wouldn't recommend thawing them out unless you want purple muffins.

    Blueberry Muffins (sugar-free, whole wheat, low-fat):
    1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
    1 egg
    1/2 cup low-fat milk
    1 tbsp. rice vinegar
    juice of half a small lemon
    1 tbsp. vegetable oil
    1 cup Splenda granular
    1/4 tsp. salt
    1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
    1 tbsp. baking powder
    1 cup frozen unsweetened blueberries
    1. Add the vinegar to the milk, stir, and allow to rest for at least 5 minutes.
    2. Whisk the applesauce, egg, milk, lemon juice, oil, salt, and Splenda together.
    3. Sprinkle the flour over the liquid mixture and gently stir just until the flour is moistened. Allow this to rest for 15-30 minutes.
    4. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. (190 degrees C.). Spray the bottoms of 6 muffin cups with cooking spray.
    5. Sprinkle the baking powder over the mixture and stir until just mixed.
    6. Stir in the frozen blueberries. Spoon the batter into the prepared cups.
    7. Bake for 30-35 minutes until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean.
    8. Allow to cool in the tins for at least 20 minutes. Run a butter knife around the edges to loosen, pat gently if they stick to the bottom. Place on a rack for cooling.
    It's very important to allow them to cool for awhile since the high fruit content will make them fragile until they are close to room temperature.

    Nutrition calculations courtesy of the Sparkrecipes calculator:

    Wednesday, October 6, 2010

    Working With Whole Wheat Flour

    The type of flour that you use will have a profound effect on the outcome. Since my recipes work well with the type of flour that I use, I thought it would be of value to talk about what I'm using. If you're using a different type of whole wheat flour, your results may differ, or you may want to slightly alter the amount of liquid you use. 

    The flour that I use in my recipes is whole grain whole wheat bread flour. I buy it through a third party seller, but I get 10 lb. bags that are shipped from the mill and obviously intended for more commercial rather than personal use. I buy my flour this way because it is much cheaper than buying small bags at Japanese supermarkets and I use a lot of flour. The value of using this type of flour is that it keeps the nutritional benefits intact, is unbleached, and as high protein as possible. The appearance is of relatively larger grains that are light brown in color.

    Because I use this type of flour, rather than more finely ground or bleached "white" whole wheat flour, I have to give it a little extra time to absorb moisture. This is why my baking recipes recommend allowing the batter to rest for 15-30 minutes. The flour being more fully hydrated will allow for a better rise and texture in the final product. I don't recommend using specialty whole wheat flour such as that which is ground more finely for baking because it removes some of the wheat germ and you lose the benefits of the whole grain and some of the protein. However, you can use any type of whole wheat flour that you like and adjust the resting time (or eliminate it) to your particular flour.

    In general, the finer the flour, the less of a need there is for resting the batter and possibly the less moisture you will need. The only way to know for sure is to experiment with your particular type of flour. If your baked goods are too dense, doughy, or dry and the baking time in your experience seems very different from that recommended in the recipe, then you may need to adjust the amount of liquid (usually low-fat milk) or applesauce a little to improve the texture and bring your result more in line with mine. 

    In general in regards to the batter type:

    Fruit- or vegetable-based cakes or muffins:
    The batter should be relatively thick to provide structure and accommodate the extra moisture from the fruit or vegetables.  The batter generally needs to be spooned into the baking pans.

    Flavored cakes or muffins (e.g., chocolate):
    The batter should resemble thick cake batter. It should be pourable, but spooning it is possible as well.

    Since whole wheat flour is richer in gluten than white flour, it's even more important not to overwork it when you mix the batter. One of the reasons why I always say to stir only until moistened prior to mixing in the baking powder is that stirring too much will work the gluten (the protein in wheat flour) and make tough baked goods. When you're working with whole wheat (and especially with quick breads or thicker batters), always mix as little as possible while still making sure all ingredients are adequately incorporated.

    If you have any problems with the results of my recipes, I welcome questions and will be happy to try and help you get a better result.

    Saturday, October 2, 2010

    Banana Custard

    Though summer is over, I still have banana puree in my freezer that I'm trying to see my way through. I decided to try and use it in a low-fat custard preparation and this worked out particularly well. It has a very strong banana flavor though, so it's not for those who are less than ardent fans of this particular fruit. It's also on the sweet side so you may want to reduce or eliminate the Splenda if you don't like sweet custards.

    I've made custards on the stove top many times as well as in the oven and I have wondered about the use of water baths and the value of them. For those who don't know, most oven-baked custards use a water bath (placing the baking dishes in a larger pan full of hot water) to regulate the temperature. It creates a softer custard with a smoother texture. For these banana custards, I used a water bath for some but also made one without the bath. There wasn't a problem with the one which was made sans bath, but it was firmer and cooked faster. If you want a finer, softer texture, use the bath. If you don't care and want something which is more firmly set, you can skip the bath.

    Banana Custard (sugar-free, low-fat, gluten-free)
    3 medium eggs
    4 tbsp. Splenda granular (1/4 cup)
    1/4 tsp. salt
    1 tsp. cinnamon
    1 tsp. vanilla
    1 cup banana puree (about 2 large bananas)
    1 1/2 cups skim milk
    1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F./175 degrees C.
    2. Spray 4 ramekins or individual serving Pyrex baking dishes with cooking spray. 
    3. Puree the bananas in a food processor.
    4. Add the remaining ingredients to the food processor bowl and process until fully incorporated.
    5. Pour the mixture into the prepared baking dishes/ramekins (up to the top is fine). There may be a little leftover.
    6. If using a water bath, place the baking dishes into a larger dish and fill the larger dish with very hot water up to the lip of the dishes. The water level should reach the top of the custard mixture.
    7. Bake for 35-40 minutes until the custard is set on the sides and slightly jiggly in the center. If you are not using a water bath, it may take less baking time (likely 25-30 minutes).
    8. Allow to cool on a rack to room temperature. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until cold. 
    Nutrition calculations courtesy of the Sparkrecipes calculator: